Middle East

The Six-Day War's Final Casualty: A Two-State Solution

Two options remain: a Palestinian "state-minus" or the status quo. Israel can live with either.
Photographer: Terry Fincher/Express/Getty Images

When Donald Trump visited Israel last month, he pledged to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Less than a week later, 15,000 members of the Israeli left, who evidently believed him, staged a monster rally in Tel Aviv under the banner: “Two States for Two Peoples.”

Just a few years ago, that motto would have been taken for granted: the so-called two-state solution was seen as the only logical outcome for either side. The Palestinians were set on full autonomy, while Israelis worried that their identity as the world's only Jewish state was imperiled.

But now, at the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, things are not so clear. Israel is increasingly prepared to live with the status quo. And it would be best for both sides if the Palestinians took a more realistic view of their options.

After the peacenik rally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded in a radio interview: “In order to assure our existence we need to have military and security control over all the territory west of the Jordan River.”   

This wasn't news. Once upon a time, Netanyahu, too, talked of a two-state solution. But in January, he began talking about a “state-minus,” in which the Arabs of the West Bank would be free to handle their domestic communal life, but under overall Israel control.

This is essentially the same offer that Prime Minister Menachem Begin made back in 1977. A lot of water has flowed through the Jordan River since then, and it has wound up in the Dead Sea. After countless international peace initiatives, summit meetings, interim agreements, dire warnings, sporadic acts of terrorism and reprisal, settlement building and the condemnation of settlement building, it seems that we are back where we were 40 years ago. There is no Palestinian state, and I doubt very much if one is in the offing.

I’m not alone in this. In March, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that a third of West Bank Arabs expect the occupation to last another 50 years. A slim majority oppose the two-state solution on the grounds that Israeli settlement has rendered it unfeasible.

Polls are just polls, but this one is makes sense. At the time of the Six-Day War, there were virtually no Jews in the West Bank -- then annexed to Jordan -- or East Jerusalem. Today there are more than 400,000, living in towns, villages and settlements. Hundreds of thousands more reside in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians (and the U.S. government) regard as occupied land.

Nothing is going to lead Israel to evacuate this many citizens to make way for a Palestinian state. If the Palestinians can’t accept that, there is no two-state deal to be made.

Another obstacle is Israel’s demand for security control over the entire West Bank, especially the Jordan Valley. The worry is that, otherwise, a fully armed and sovereign Palestinian state could open its eastern border to the Iranian army or its proxies, Islamic State, or whatever fresh hell appears. Palestinian negotiators swear on a stack of Korans that they would never do such a thing, but Israelis have too much experience to trust them. Any foreseeable Israeli government would insist that a Palestinian entity be demilitarized, and that Israel would control its borders. As long as the Palestinians can’t agree, there will be no peace agreement.

In addition, one of the strongest arguments of Israeli peaceniks has now lost its punch. This was the claim that a failure to withdraw from Arab territories would lead to a single state that would soon lose its Jewish majority to what Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat called, in a typically inelegant phrase, “the weapon of the Arab womb.” This may have been true in 1967, but it is far from clear today.

The Palestinian census bureau estimates that there are some 2.9 million Arabs in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Some neutral demographers think this figure is inflated, but let’s go with it. Add the 1.8 million Arab citizens of Israel and you get 4.7 million Arabs from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean.

The Jewish population of Israel and the West Bank is roughly 6.5 million. In other words, there is a Jewish majority of almost two million. There are Palestinians in the Gaza Strip too, but Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and has no claim on it. If a West Bank Palestinian "state-minus" wanted to incorporate it, Israel probably wouldn’t object. But there is no “one-state” scenario that would include Gaza. For Israel, that would be a deal breaker.

OK, but what about the dreaded Arab womb? Turns out that Arafat didn’t take into account that Palestinians do not have a monopoly on baby-making technology. The fertility rate of Israeli Jewish and Israeli Arab women is now identical. The West Bank rate is slightly higher, but falling. In short, a one-state Israel would not lose its Jewish majority in the maternity ward.

It even seems likely that the Jewish majority would increase: Israel's Law of Return allows any Jew (defined as a person with at least one Jewish grandparent) and his or her family to receive automatic Israeli citizenship. Because of intermarriage, the number of people who qualify for citizenship has grown remarkably. Think John Kerry (Jewish grandparents), Drake (Jewish mom) and Caroline Kennedy (Jewish husband) and many millions of less celebrated, but equally eligible, potential immigrants. 

So, Israel can live with a one-state option. It can also live with a Palestinian state-minus next door. Or it can continue with the status quo, which is not preferable but far from unbearable. Israel has flourished despite its occupation of the West Bank. It has concluded full peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and is in a de facto alliance with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab countries against Iran.

Israel has also built close relationships with Russia and its former satellites, as well as China, India, Japan and the other Asian tigers. Sub-Saharan Africa, which once shunned Israel as a Zionist imperialist, now openly courts it.

The U.S. is Israel’s greatest (but not quite indispensable) ally. Occasionally, American presidents have tried to leverage this to pressure Israel into concessions it regards as unwise. The Barack Obama administration made a habit of this, often warning Israel, mafia-style, of the damage that recalcitrance on the Palestinian issue could do to its reputation and popularity. These public warnings were meant, of course, to be self-fulfilling. But the tactic didn’t work.

When Obama took office, Americans supported Israel over the Palestinians (according to Gallup) 59 percent to 18 percent. When he left, the margin was 62 percent to 19 percent. In today’s America, there aren’t many issues that lopsided.

Most Israelis were disappointed when Trump reneged on his promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem. It would have been a fine anniversary present. But nobody here thinks the U.S. is going to try to pressure Israel into a West Bank deal.

The reason is simple. Whether the Palestinians are willing to admit it or not, the Six Day War is finally over and they lost. If they want a deal, it will be on Israel’s terms. Most of the settlers, present and future, will stay. The army will remain on the Jordan River.

The Palestinians can have a country with a flag and an anthem, elections and local government and, eventually, economic and strategic cooperation. Or they can be absorbed into Israel. There are worse things to be in the Middle East than a self-governing minority in a free and prosperous country.  

Either way, in 2067, Israel will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Six Day War. It would be nice to find a way to celebrate together.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Zev Chafets at zchafets@gmail.com

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net

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